Road seems open to building a BTC traffic safety center

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February 22, 2008

Blackhawk Technical College got another thumbs-up Thursday in its quest to build a training center for truck drivers, police and firefighters on Janesville’s south side.

One news reporter and Richard Ott, the chairman of the Rock County Board, were the only ones to show up for a public information session.

“I think you have a great location,” Ott remarked. “That’s why you don’t have 50 people here; you know, out of sight, out of mind.”

Officials confirmed for the first time publicly that the center would be built on the north side of the South Central Wisconsin Regional Airport. The site under consideration is just south of Knilans Road, along South Oakhill Road.

BTC sent letters to more than 30 residents and business owners in the area, but none attended Thursday evening’s session.

The 38-acre site would contain a classroom building and track designed for a variety of driver-training scenarios, from parking big rigs and fire trucks to emergency maneuvering for squad cars.

The BTC Board has committed $1 million to the project over the next two years, but most of the $4.5 million in costs is expected to come from private donors or government grants.

BTC President Eric Larson said he has received letters of support from Gateway Technical College to the east and Rock Valley College in the south.

The Rock Valley College letter means removes a potential barrier to BTC marketing the training facility to the Rockford Police Department, Larson said.

Police departments all over need refresher as well as recruit training. Now, many police and fire departments use a less-than-ideal racetrack in South Beloit, Ill., for those purposes.

The Rockford Fire Department already has expressed interest in the facility, said Gary Schenck, BTC’s fire service training coordinator.

BTC is looking at marketing to all of Wisconsin and parts of neighboring states.

“This is a project that we perceive like the ball field: If you build it, they will come,” Schenck said.

Schenck said staff members in BTC’s protective services division are “ecstatic” about the proposed facility. “I can’t tell you what a boost this would be.”

The project still has hurdles to clear, including approvals from the city of Janesville, Rock County Board and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Larson announced in a memo to BTC Board members this week that the police chiefs of Janesville and Beloit and the Rock County sheriff have endorsed the project.

At the meeting, officials said they’ve considered marketing the track not only to businesses that need to train drivers but also for ATV users and people who want to learn how to maneuver their boat trailers with their RVs

“The sky’s the limit as to what we can do,” Larson said.

A preliminary timetable calls for opening the facility in fall 2009.

If You Go

Blackhawk Technical College will hold one more information session on its proposed Traffic Safety Center at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28, in the North Commons of the main building on the central campus, 6004 Prairie Road.

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